Nick held the role of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons from 2010 until January this year, taking responsibility for providing independent scrutiny of detention in England and Wales through carrying out announced and unannounced inspections of detention facilities, including prisons, young offenders’ institutions, police cells and immigration detention.
Nick commented: “It’s a real honour to get this award, particularly as it comes through my links with Leeds Beckett and the work they’re doing with prisons. The advice I would give graduating students today is don’t be afraid of making mistakes. People who never make mistakes never make anything so I hope that they will try difficult things and not be put off if they don’t always get it right.”
Throughout his tenure as Chief Inspector, Nick was an outspoken critic of the conditions he found in prisons, being described by former Chief Inspector, David Ramsbothem, as a ‘fearless reporter of the facts’.
Nick was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws on Wednesday 27 July, for his contribution to law.
Speaking about the future of prisons in England and Wales, Nick said: “Whenever you think about crime and punishment, we all want prisoners to leave prison less likely to offend than when they went in. So I think a key thing for prisons is to focus more on rehabilitation and helping prisoners live a crime-free life when they come out.”
Nick began his career in the voluntary sector, working with young offenders for NACRO, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, and leading Centrepoint, a charity and housing association for young homeless people, from 1986 to 1995.
In 1992, he was seconded to the Department of Environment where he worked as a special adviser to the then-Housing Minister, Sir George Young, before becoming Chief Executive of the Refugee Council in 1995.
Nick progressed to become the first Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2003 and was awarded a CBE for his work in 2010. He was Chair of the Housing Ombudsman Service between 2010 and 2013.
Alongside his appointments, Nick has been involved in many voluntary organisations concerned with young people, offenders and refugees. He is currently Chair of the New Horizon Youth Centre, a day centre which works with young people who are vulnerable, homeless or at risk, helping them to create positive futures.
Nick is also a trustee of Prisoners Abroad, a human rights organisation which cares for the welfare of all British citizens held in foreign prisons, and he has served on the boards of many other charities concerned with homelessness, refugees and prisons.
He is now Professor of Criminal Justice at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Chair of the Parole Board, an independent body carrying out risk assessments on prisoners to determine whether they can be safely released into the community.
Speaking about his role at the Parole Board, Nick said: “The role of the Parole Board is to decide whether prisoners who have had a life sentence are safe to release. It is a very difficult job to do to make those decisions and it is my job as Chair to help make those decisions as well as possible so that the public are protected and the prisons are rehabilitated and can make a new start.”
When asked what has been the highlight of his career so far, Nick added: “This is a very special day but also I think that my role as Chief Inspector of Prisons was an opportunity to make a real difference so I look back on that period fondly.”
Leeds Beckett University Chancellor, Sir Bob Murray CBE, said: “Nick has been a great supporter of our University’s Prison Research Network since its launch in April 2015, where Nick presented the keynote lecture. We welcomed him once again to Leeds Beckett later in the year to speak at the Prisoner Learning Alliance second annual conference, sharing his vision of an aspirational prison.
“We are delighted to recognise Nick’s contribution to law with this Honorary Doctorate and to hear him share his wealth of knowledge with our students at graduation.”